5 myths about wind energy
Blame wind energy
Whose fault is it that children won’t eat their vegetables, that trains are always full and that the Cleveland Indians never win the World Series?
Myth 1 Bird Killers
Fact check. All reputable, international organizations arrive at similar conclusions: compared with other high-rise structures or other types of energy generation, the mortality rate for birds from wind turbines is much lower. According to a Danish study, the number of birds that are killed per gigawatt hour of electricity generation is: 5.18 for fossil power plants and 0.27 for wind turbines.
Offshore, the problem is hardly relevant, because migratory birds fly much higher than wind turbines.
It is undeniable that during the construction of offshore facilities there is noise pollution, which can disturb porpoises. But at the same time, the construction areas become a preferred hunting area for some animal species because of the lack of ships and vessels sailing through.
The operators of wind farms take these issues seriously, including passive protection measures such as proper planning and observing bird flight paths. Active measures are also increasingly applied by supporting bird conservation activities such as the construction of artificial nests.
Hermann Höcker from NaBu (Nature & Biodiversity Conservation Union): “It really depends on the location. At 80 to 90% of all wind parks, bird collisions are not a problem.”
Myth 2 Wind power can make you sick
Fact check. Despite numerous discussions, particularly in Denmark and Germany, there is, to this day, not a single scientific study that has demonstrated that infrasound is harmful to humans.
Nevertheless, operators and authorities take this issue seriously. The minimum distances from buildings have been expanded in some states. The manufacturers of turbines are stepping up research in the area of low-noise rotor blades, such as the trailing edge serrations method, or new techniques such as rotor free vortex turbines. Most studies come to the same conclusion: direct physical impairments are not measurable, but probably psychological – caused by the fear of new technologies.
Myth 3 Those things are such an eye-sore
Fact check. Granted, in the past, onshore wind turbines produced some inglorious designs, which would no longer be approved today. Today, there are strict guidelines for wind farms. But it’s a matter of taste. Many people delight in the sight of wind turbines. A study from Professor Hübner from the University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany and a survey from the Forsa Institute show that 80% of people living near wind turbines rate them positively. Certainly, we’ve got a lot of great feedback from the wind turbine pictures that we post each day on Instagram.
An increasing share of wind farms are now located far off the coast, usually invisible to the human eye.
Counter-question: A society that runs on renewable energy must also install wind turbines somewhere – just not in my backyard (NIMBY)?
Myth 4 Wind isn’t really environmentally friendly
Fact check. Several studies by independent research institutes show that wind turbines alone are champions in the reduction of CO₂. Depending on the examined wind farms, the amount of CO₂ generated by the construction has already been saved after 3-9 months.
Permanent magnets, which are used in many electric motors and, indeed, turbines, require rare metals such as neodymium. These types of magnets can be up to 10 times as effective as normal iron magnets. Many companies, particularly from the automotive industry, are conducting research into a replacement of these expensive rare metals, which is in their own economic interest.
A counter-question: Rare metals are found today in mobile phones, laptops, cars and planes. Why is there so much criticism towards wind turbines on this one issue?
Myth 5 It’s just not reliable
Fact check. Undeniably, a wind farm does not provide electricity 24/7. In the planning of wind farms, however, the past experiences have shown that current offshore sites now generate around 4,000 full-load hours per year for the turbines – mathematically, this means that they run “full throttle” nearly 50% of the time.
We are currently in a transitional phase of the ‘energy transition’. This fundamental change cannot be accomplished in a few years and conventional power plants are still required for the base load. There are two areas where reliable supply will see definite improvements in the future: 1. smart grids will be able to distribute excess electricity better throughout Germany and Europe, and 2. storage solutions will be able to save power from wind to be used when it is needed.
Two interesting solutions include power-to-gas technology (see picture) and the Blue Battery project, which is a pumped-storage power plant in Norway that can store excess wind power from our offshore wind farms.
“Nobody’s perfect!” is the final line in the classic Some Like It Hot. This also applies to wind energy. There are many accusations devoid of factual basis, but which contain a grain of truth. What is often forgotten is that it’s still a young technology that is making almost daily leaps in efficiency. How well we can optimize classical German industrial products, can be seen in the automotive and mechanical engineering industries. Wind energy is far from reaching the end of its technical possibilities. We will start seeing larger and more powerful turbines, which are increasingly and ideally located far from the coast. If a majority of our society decides for green power, then we have to build them somewhere.